Electronic Fantasy Spaceship by Vangelis… PBS
I adored two shows as a boy. The first was The scavenger huntin which John Housemen played the strict Harvard law professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. The other was cosmoswhich was moderated by an astronomer, Carl Sagan, who was married between 1957 and 1996 to a biologist whose work, Symbiotic Planetchanged my life in 2008. (Both shows aired on PBS, the only channel my shumba mom would allow me without restrictions.)
Well, my childhood had two life changing experiences. First watched war of stars with my aunt (Maiguru to be precise) in 1977. This was the moment that happened in Seattle (my childhood summer town) when I saw for the first time that Christianity was not structuring the whole universe. It wasn’t basic. Evil could be Satan or Darth Vader and good could be Jesus or Luke Skywalker. This discovery broke my boyish spirit. No one had told me that Jesus could not be considered all good on Jupiter or Alpha Centauri or a galaxy far, far away.
My atheism was born that afternoon in that theater. (war of stars was the first movie I watched.) But I needed something to fill the growing vacuum created by the experience. I still had to believe in something. Nothing was not enough. I was mentally helpless until I saw the first episode of cosmos towards the end of 1980.
Three things about this show moved me deeply. One was Carl Sagan himself (so sane, so thoughtful, so human), another was the Starship of the Imagination (a “starship/set that Sagan traveled in wonderful space and time in…with translucent skin and a control panel of glittering crystals…”) and finally the show’s theme song, “Heaven and Hell”, by a Greek composer who died of COVID-19 on Tuesday May 17, Vangelis.
i was sold I believed in God, but in a worldly one. A god made of starcloth, to use Sagan’s language. But the transmission of my religion from the church to the stars would not have been possible without Vangelis’ stirring Heaven and Hell. I did my best not to miss the opening of the show, because this sad and starry piece gave my emotional access to the essence of the show’s defining imagery: planets, stellar gas clouds, pulsars, galaxies.
Towards the end of the second episode of cosmos“A voice in the cosmic fugue,” Sagan said something that really amazed me: “The molecules of life fill the universe.” And as he speculated about life on other worlds and the cinema-lost Jesus in universal matter and physical laws transformed into life, Vangelis delivered a perfect piece of music: “Alpha”.
Fifteen years later, Canadian producers Dino & Terry took “Alpha” and turned it into a deep trip-hop groove, “Gibby Disco”:
Best known for a soundtrack that did nothing for me (the Chariots of Fire theme), Vangelis provided the revolutionary soundtrack for a film that brought cyberpunk to the big screen for the first time. Bladerunner. My first encounter with this work was in Harare in 1984. I rented the film from a video store in the Chisipite mall. I was with my friend Martin. After playing Asteroids in an arcade, we went to see the film at his place on Enterprise Road. Once we got over our speechlessness, we couldn’t stop talking about and watching the sci-fi film again.
There is not enough time in my life to even come close to saying enough about the music/images in this work: its opening (the fiery industrial explosions of an endless city whose pollution has turned day to night and rain poisonous); its climax (a police car landing on top of a 300-story police station); its conclusion (a techno beat as the doomed androids flee to the Pacific Northwest). The way of feeling this Los Angeles that in 1982 was the year 2019 was made so real by a genius who gave me the cosmos and the urban sublime, Vangelis.